Brigette Lau (BASc ’99) is the co-founder of a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, a poker player and mother to three children. She’s also a self-described introvert with deep expertise investing in early-stage technology. As a teenager in the mid-1990s, Lau was thrilled to get a job at a big-box store and doubted that she ever needed to go to university. Her parents, however, had other ideas: “I grew up as an immigrant in Canada” Lau says.
“It was very much about working hard and keeping your head down. Education was very important to my family.” After graduating from the University of Waterloo as a computer engineer, she had her sight set on Silicon Valley. Lau was attracted to the passion and innovation at many start-ups and wanted to be a part of it.
Everything in Lau’s education and career culminates in founding Firework Ventures, a firm with an ambitious vision to transform the future of work by investing in founders committed to closing the ever-widening gaps in society.
Finding the human in a digital future
“We believe that economic and social mobility are among the most important challenges of our time,” Lau says. “There is so much talent out there, so many hard workers who are incredibly capable but don’t have a network or access to opportunities.” Lau notes that venture funds often focus narrowly on investing in knowledge workers, when there is a much bigger opportunity for the rest of the workforce.
We believe that economic and social mobility are among the most important challenges of our time. There is so much talent out there, so many hard workers who are incredibly capable but don’t have a network or access to opportunities.
Lau and her team are focusing on what is “uniquely human” during this time of increasing automation, digitization and acceleration. “For the first time in history, technological advancement has become a driver of inequality, rather than opportunity,” she says.
Previously, Lau invested in the early stages of some of the companies that are, in her view, leaders in the future of work such as BetterUp, which democratizes access to coaching and Guild, which provides front-line workers with education benefits.
Multi-trillion-dollar market opportunity
Firework Ventures invests horizontally rather than taking a traditional approach by investing in verticals like education or health care. “We look at our investments through the lens of human potential, which is an emerging multi-trillion-dollar market opportunity” says Lau. For example, Lau led the Series A and joined the boards of Tilt, a company that is revolutionizing employee leave in the workplace, and Stride Funding, which provides much needed capital to students to help them pursue educational opportunities that lead to better job outcomes.
“What I am most excited about is that all of these companies exceed billion-dollar valuations, (or are on their way), while also positively impacting the lives of so many,” Lau says.
Lau also believes in doing venture differently. This extends beyond her investment thesis. She believes in investing in both her team and her founders. Lau, her teammates, and founders have access to ongoing coaching to help everyone reach their full potential. The firm also connects its founders with an expert on talent strategy to help founders meet the needs of their rapidly growing teams.
I was blessed with the opportunity to pursue my education at Waterloo, work as a computer engineer in Silicon Valley and invest in multiple, billion-dollar startups – all the while becoming a mom and raising a family.
Lau’s vision and inspiration is grounded in her own story: “I was blessed with the opportunity to pursue my education at Waterloo, work as a computer engineer in Silicon Valley and invest in multiple, billion-dollar startups – all the while becoming a mom and raising a family.”
Support for women-led startups
Lau, who admits starting a new firm is “not for the faint of heart,” was also supporting her young children’s learning at home during the pandemic.
At a time when only seven per cent of venture capital raised is managed by women-founded funds and just two per cent of venture capital funding went to women-led startups in 2020, Lau knows first-hand the challenges women engineers and mothers face in the workforce.
“I want to be an example for my children. I want my daughter and two sons to see a woman founding and leading her own company.”
Lau reflects on the teenager she was – a young woman with talent but no plan – and knows there are many people who just need the right support and connections to realize their full potential. She remembers seeing a few of her peers starting their own companies while still at school and wondered: “Am I allowed to do that?”
So now, Lau wants to use her platform to make connections for others and help increase the number of diverse voices at the table. “I believe it is my responsibility to show the next generation that they can pursue their ambitions,” she says. “I believe that everything that has happened in my life has brought me to this point. I see so much possibility … I’m super excited about the future.”